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Talk – Before It’s Too Late

Steinbeis mediation experts work on EU project for resolving inheritance disputes out of court

An increasing number of EU citizens move to different countries and as a result there has been a rise in the number of cross-border inheritance cases. This could be a German pensioner who has decided to spend his final years in Spain, or a French woman who owns real estate in Austria and would like to bequeath her assets to relatives after her death. When EU inheritance laws were reformed in 2012, it had major implications. There are uniform rules stipulating that sovereign law now takes precedence in the country in which the testator was most recently considered resident. This has fundamental implications for Germans. Laws in people’s country of origin no longer apply. Instead, it’s the law in the country where somebody spends most of their time now that counts. Since the inheritance laws in Europe differed considerably from one country to another – including the “compulsory portion” rule – these changes could result in legal uncertainty and arguments. As part of an a EU-sponsored project, the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Mediation of Business and the Academy for Mediation, Social Aspects and Law, a Steinbeis Transfer Institute, are looking into ways to prevent cross-border disputes in civil cases and inheritance situations. The project should also result in the setting up of an international network of experts.

The main emphasis of the two-year research project (Fostering mediation in cross-border civil and succession matters, or FOMENTO) is to understand the theoretical and empirical aspects regarding the implementation of two EU laws: directive 2008/52/EG governing certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters (the Mediation Directive), and regulation EU/650/2012, generally referred to as the EU Succession Regulation.

The aim is to ensure that out-of-court settlements can be reached in the event of a dispute – so-called alternative dispute resolution. Ideally, some mediation will already have taken place before somebody passes away, so that possible heirs and testators can discuss matters beforehand and avoid disputes in the first place. Even with an inheritance involving heirs in different countries, an online mediation process can make a decisive contribution toward gaining understanding between the different parties. To promote mediation throughout Europe, the EU issued the Mediation Directive in 2008.

The Steinbeis Consulting Center for Mediation of Business and the Academy for Mediation, Social Aspects and Law, a Steinbeis Transfer Institute at Steinbeis University Berlin, are part of a project consortium involving a variety of other partners from Italy (Resolution, Prodos Consulting) and Poland (Mediatorzy.pl). In the coming months, the teams will be investigating the specific impact of the aforementioned guidelines on Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Sweden, and Austria. Expert interviews will be carried out as well as online surveys to assess the main difficulties encountered with international inheritance disputes. Based on the information this generates, the teams should present best practice proposals for dealing with such disputes.

Training sessions are planned in 2018 to take place in Germany, Italy, and Poland to explain to EU citizens how the inheritance rules work and suggest different ways to resolve conflicts outside of court. It is also planned to set up a multinational network for inheritance mediation. The project will finish in 2019 with a closing conference in Leipzig.


Jonathan Barth, Judith Pfützenreuter
Steinbeis Consulting Center Mediation of Business (Leipzig)